In Carmen Giménez Smith’s Cruel Futures, it’s clear she is not interested in the kind of static attention one associates with William Wordsworth’s definition of poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquillity.” Instead Giménez Smith has places to go and then to take off from again, in the form, mainly, of social and political critiques. “I’m a receptacle / disguised as a person—but still, technically, / a person. The dog was Platonic / in his cuteness, was a figure / in discourse, yet still just a shadow / of the diligent mind I once was, / dense with memes and laments.” Although her poems achieve a certain velocity, she still manages to delve into volcanic meaning and bask in the mirror of self-reflection. “I’m driven by envy, / and gluttony, the desire to consume better / than anyone else.” To truly relish her talent is to understand her intellect as one of those plasma balls that lights up with bolts of electricity when one’s hand touches it. The speakers in her poems are charming, self-deprecating, humorous, and awed, especially when they portray what life is like as a mother, a wife, an artist, and a consumer of popular culture and literature: “My petty Madame Bovarian despair is at the core of all my watching!” Because Giménez Smith experiments with a thicker set of references and inferential imagery than most, poems such as “Of Property,” “As Body,” and “Ravers Having Babies” seem to outpace whatever triggered their origin, and she almost always arrives at pure lyric possession: “I’d like / to begin loading this heteroglossia / with more brutality, but I keep finding / a new pith: make it even realer.”
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2018.